Two years into the marriage, I found out about the pornography, and a couple years after that there was Internet chatting with women.”
Although Sarah1 wasn’t tech savvy, she decided one evening to try and set up web chatting, since it was something her husband had said he’d wanted. The computer was set with an automatic login using his username and password. After logging in, Sarah saw something curious.
“I saw an address book pop up, and it was all women’s names. I kept thinking, This is weird. Why would he have women’s names? While I was sitting there, one of the ladies popped online and started chatting like she thought I was my husband. I initially started chatting back with her under the guise of being my husband, and finally I said, ‘I’m sorry. This is his wife, and I don’t know what’s going on.’ She was very open, and she said, ‘He told me he was divorced. We met a couple weeks ago.’
“I really suffered when I found out about the chatting because it was not just looking at something, it was now interacting with someone else. I actually spoke to some of the ladies he had spoken to and found out what they were doing.”
It turned out her husband was “chatting” with online strippers. “It was just shattering to me,” says Sarah.
How to care for betrayed wives
Wives of unfaithful husbands are sitting in our churches, and that infidelity can come through various means, including physical sexual relations, intimate attachments, online affairs, and cybersex. How can you minister to these women in a way that’s sensitive to their unique hurts and is truly helpful?
These five points will guide you in ministering to a betrayed wife.
Offer Scripture speaking to her worth
While it’s important to give betrayed spouses Scriptures that encourage one to trust God, forgive, and grieve, many women question their self-worth after their husband’s infidelity.2 So you’ll also want to find verses that remind them how much they mean to God. Passages of Scripture that speak of our intrinsic worth and God’s love for us can help restore or lay a foundation for one’s dignity (Ps. 139:13, 1 John 3:1–3, Zeph. 3:17).
Provide awareness as to what to expect in the aftermath
People who admit to acts of infidelity often reveal their thoughts and past actions gradually. While a wife might be willing to endure the initial revelation of her spouse’s unfaithfulness, she may have more trouble dealing with the steady drip of lies and deceit as further past actions are revealed. These steady drips contribute to the failure of marriages. Equip her with the knowledge that this is likely to happen as the husband reveals further thoughts, actions, motivations, and details.
Brad Hambrick’s True Betrayal video series is an excellent resource to help betrayed spouses understand why they are hurting so deeply and how to heal and move forward. The nine-part video series can be viewed online at no cost.
Provide opportunities for connections
So many people feel they are the only one with a particular struggle. Connect the women in your church in a safe and spiritually healthy setting with others who’ve been betrayed by their spouses. “I had felt very alone,” shares Sarah. “It was a huge comfort to see other people were going through what I was going through. It made me feel good to interact and have that connection with people who knew where I was.” These supportive connections in the church were a valuable part of Sarah’s healing process.
Teach forgiveness, but don’t rush it
Sometimes wives of unfaithful husbands are rushed into forgiveness, without being given the needed support and care for her shock, wounds, confusion, bleeding heart, and self-doubt. Triage first, then instruction.Teaching forgiveness is a crucial part of ministering to a betrayed wife, but it’s important for the wife to understand (1) what forgiveness means, (2) that it takes time, and (3) that she may need to forgive multiple times as she continues to become aware of new aspects of the betrayal and what’s been lost. When encouraged to forgive, the betrayed wife may misunderstand what is being asked of her and may assume that forgiving her husband means/requires:
- I should act as if the offense didn’t happen.3
- The offense was no big deal.
- He fully understands how much he has hurt me.
- My husband actually wants to be forgiven.4
Even if the betrayed spouse is able to understand how much Christ has forgiven her, if she has a wrong idea of what forgiveness is, that can make it harder for her to embrace it. Make sure the woman understands that forgiveness doesn’t mean that she has to be naive, minimize the offense, or get her husband to fully appreciate what he has done or even get him to want to be forgiven. That awareness can make it easier for her to forgive as she has been forgiven.
Don’t make the offending spouse out to be a hero
If the husband, too, has come to you or another church leader for help, be careful about making the “repentant” husband the hero and sole focus of your ministry efforts. As you are trying to help and restore the unfaithful husband, the attention you give him can send an unintended message to the wife who has been betrayed. She may think:
- Why is everyone making such a big deal about his efforts to restore his marriage?
- Would he even be trying to restore it if he hadn’t been caught?
- I’m hurting, but my spouse is getting all of the attention.
Infidelity abounds in churches and in the community, and the availability of online intimacy and sex only increases the problem. Having a ministry plan in place will help your church provide specific care for the hurts faced by a betrayed wife. What approaches have you found helpful in ministering to betrayed spouses?
- Name changed for privacy.
- While this article focuses on ministering to a woman who has been betrayed, many of the principles apply when helping a man who has been betrayed. Women, too, are involved not only in physical affairs, but in online affairs and the use of Internet pornography. Research by CovenantEyes Internet Accountability and Filtering found that 49 percent of young women say viewing porn is an acceptable way to express one’s sexuality and 18 percent of women use porn at least once every week.
- A person may counter, “But we’re not supposed to keep a record of wrongs.” That’s true, but we want to make clear that not keeping a record doesn’t mean a person is to pretend the affair didn’t happen. We want to encourage people to love those who’ve sinned against them, but we also want to encourage them to be wise—for their sake and often for the sake of the person who caused the offense. For example, insisting that a husband who has a problem with Internet pornography get monitoring software on his computer and mobile devices isn’t akin to keeping a record of wrongs. It’s just a good idea that protects him and his family.
- Should you encourage forgiveness if the offending party isn’t repentant? Some argue that in order for forgiveness to occur, one or both parties must acknowledge their guilt, repent, and seek forgiveness. They view forgiveness as a transaction requiring the willing participation of two parties (Luke 17:3). Others look at a passage like Mark 11:25 and conclude that one can forgive without the offending party being present. A third view suggests that there is a difference between the types of forgiveness described in these two passages: there is forgiveness that leads to reconciliation (Luke 17:3), and there is forgiveness that can be granted without the other person’s request for it (Mark 11:25). Full reconciliation requires what is described in Luke 17:3, where the offending party admits to and repents of his sin.